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Grace Notes

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  684 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
The award-winning Grace Notes is a compact and altogether masterful portrait of a woman composer and the complex interplay between her life and her art. With superb artistry and startling intimacy, it brings us into the life of Catherine McKenna — estranged daughter, vexed lover, new mother, and musician making her mark in a male-dominated field. It is a book that the Virg ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published November 17th 1998 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published September 1st 1997)
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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodNever Let Me Go by Kazuo IshiguroAtonement by Ian McEwanThe Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time by Mark HaddonCloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Non-Winners of the Man Booker
104th out of 210 books — 178 voters
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. RowlingThe Subtle Knife by Philip PullmanElla Enchanted by Gail Carson LevineGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondA Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Best Books of 1997
86th out of 239 books — 130 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,472)
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Cynthia
Jun 05, 2010 Cynthia rated it really liked it
Catherine is an Irish woman who is musical. Her parents notice her talent when she’s young and find her a wonderful teacher. She becomes a pianist and a composer. Unfortunately Catherine’s parents also share their conflicted relationship and throw in some Catholic angst. MacLaverty got the musical bits exactly right in my opinion. Music is hard to describe in words yet he did so with excellence. There were several pieces I’d never heard of before and based on his descriptions I’m going to search ...more
Tony
May 18, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it
GRACE NOTES. (1997). Bernard MacLaverty. ****.
I just discovered this writer. That’s like discovering America in 1493: probably the rest of the world already knew about him. This novel, short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1997, started out to be the best I’d read in a long time, but somehow got lost along the way. It’s the story of Catherine Anne McKenna, a young woman from Northern Ireland who leaves to pursue her dream of becoming a composer – a field famous for its scarcity of women. We firs
...more
Krista
Nov 26, 2008 Krista rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Ever wonder how a musician composes? From whence the inspiration comes? This novel offers a glimpse, even as it also narrates the professional and personal challenges of being a (post)modern woman. A lovely, honest, intensely real portrait that ponders questions of life, religion, and art -- particularly the question of where redemption is found... or perhaps created.
Cynthia
Jul 09, 2009 Cynthia rated it really liked it
Recommended to Cynthia by: Joe Geha
One of those books where you keep saying, "This was written by a MAN?" The portrait of Catherine McKenna, composer, shows the ways her art intersects with the rest of her life. The author knows a lot about post-partum depression and music.
Merilee
Jun 29, 2010 Merilee rated it it was amazing
Stunning so far.


This book, about a young, Irish composer who mainly lives on an island off Scotland, is absolutely pitch-perfect. I kept having to remind myself that the female narrator was written by a man.
Sarah
May 18, 2016 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: british
I liked it. It also broke my heart a little... the total lack of effective treatment and support for her depression just reminds me of what I see every day in my work, talking to people about their experiences.

What I probably liked the most was the way that it made me think differently about classical music and composition. Such a fascinating feat, to write about music with words, and to do such a beautiful job conveying it. I have been listening to classical music with new ears since finishing
...more
Alex Nye
Oct 14, 2014 Alex Nye rated it it was amazing
I'm cheating slightly with this review as I actually read GRACE NOTES a long time ago - nearly seventeen years, in fact.

However, I do remember precisely when and where I read it, and why it was so important to me. GRACE NOTES was the first serious novel I was able to read after having given birth to my second child. I read it on Calgary Beach during a summer vacation on the Isle of Mull. The title itself was significant, as was the content. The heroine of the story has post-natal depression, and
...more
Elaine
Dec 27, 2009 Elaine rated it it was amazing
I am always skeptical when a male author has a woman protagonist -- and in this case, a woman protagonist who goes through childbirth. But darn if MacLaverty didn't pull it off so well that I had to go back and check that the author really was a man. He captures the relationship between Ireland and Scotland so well, and between the Scottish isles and the mainland cities. I only wished I knew more about musical composition, so I could have followed the protagonist's musical work (composing and pl ...more
Tien
As the book begins, there were some hints of mystery to it. There were times that I got really curious as to Catherine’s current situation is... This is one of those books that I picked up without paying too much attention to the blurb and as it happens, it is exactly as described and no more :p

Unfortunately, I’m not a very literary minded either so whilst I appreciated some nuances, others I’ve completely missed. I appreciated the triumphant ending note of the novel but can’t help wonder if tha
...more
Anne
Jul 29, 2014 Anne rated it liked it
Grace Notes was a good book but it jumped around in time a lot, in ways that I did not always enjoy. It turned out to be about postpartum depression as well as musical genius, which was very interesting. I'm glad I stuck it out to the end, which was very interesting, but it was hard for a while.
Emily
Apr 30, 2015 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1945-literature
This is a great story, especially for anyone who plays an instrument or is interested in music. MacLaverty manages to make you hear the music Catherine writes, even though it doesn't actually exist off the page. Catherine's relationship with the piano ties the different narrative periods together, and is in fact the only stable relationship she has within the book, which is all about the senses; Catherine's heightened attention to sound, the abrasive touch of her partner and child-birth, the fee ...more
Susan
Jun 07, 2010 Susan rated it really liked it
Lately I've been turned off by Irish novels about dysfunctional families. Last year I read both The Secret Scripture and The Gathering and felt like both were "same old same old". Not bad but not original either. (The ending of the former was an exception but it was the worst part.)

But I really liked Grace Notes. MacLaverty, as Colum McCann's Brooklyn which I also enjoyed, writes from the point of view of a female character and does it well.

The main character is Catherine who is a serious and s
...more
Beth
Sep 03, 2009 Beth rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Susana Pereira
A estrutura do livro é original e algo estranha: o livro foi dividido em duas partes, mas a segunda vem antes da primeira em termos cronológicos. Não sei o motivo do autor, mas acho que assim saímos da leitura um pouco mais optimistas, porque a cena final é revigorante e a primeira parte anda à volta de acontecimentos um pouco mais deprimentes. De qualquer maneira, no final não pude deixar de dar uma espreitadela a algumas passagens da primeira parte de modo a poder vê-las sob uma perspectiva di ...more
Clive Thompson
Jul 13, 2013 Clive Thompson rated it really liked it
I am male and I am drawn to books written by males as I feel I will be able to relate to them easier and this was my reason for choosing this book. But....Bernard Mac Laverty has written this book from the perspective of a female, Catherine, and on finishing this novel, a male will feel, rightly or wrongly, that he better knows the female mind. Very descriptive with great observation;-

"She noticed that her fists were clenched and she consciously relaxed them, turned her palms upward on her lap
...more
Robert Strandquist
Mar 31, 2013 Robert Strandquist rated it liked it
Shelves: while-in-belgium
My rating of 3 should be a 4 but I simply could not come to terms with my personal bias of a male author writing intimately about a female protagonist especially regarding childbirth. Aside from this blindness on my part, MacLaverty's strength is so ably using stream-of-consciousness to capture the inherent confusion during intense moments with Catherine's life and mind. A particular moment is the novel's final one when Catherine's musical composition is performed by a live orchestra. Here merge ...more
Hollis
Dec 15, 2009 Hollis rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
One of those nice novels that gets shortlisted for the Booker but never seems to win it: I have to admit that I found it a bit dreary at times. The thing that irritated me slightly about the book was the writing style: to me, it read like a piece of writing by a graduate student trying to emulate Virginia Woolf. Like this. Like that. Two ideas, apparently not linked, but still somehow joined. Transubstantion. They did that at Sunday school, with the dusty pews and benches. Old Mrs McMarnagan, wi ...more
Leif
Jun 07, 2012 Leif rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kathy
Nov 14, 2015 Kathy rated it it was ok
I can't bring myself to give this 3 stars, so if you are reading this review, understand that my 2 stars are really 2.5 stars.

There were things to like about this book, such as how a composer decides what to write. But all of that went on-and-on for too many pages - I skimmed much of it. Also, the choices that Catherine made about her life, and her baby, and her family were well-written and interesting. The plumbing of the depths of her post-partum depression were tiring however. Not to mention
...more
Kevin
May 21, 2016 Kevin rated it liked it
Good book, but not great. Several important plot points were left unresolved. Very good writing overall and an excellent final scene.
Julia
May 02, 2010 Julia rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010-list
Grace Notes is the third book I've read recently that is recursive, jumping forward and back in time. Like the other two novels (all well written), when I finished Grace Notes I kept thinking about it, filling in the story and unwrapping it further.

It's not a warm book, and was truly chilly enough to make me put on a sweater as I read it. I'm not sure if it was just the atmosphere that left my fingertips cold. Perhaps the talk of music also drained the book of warmth, so much of it sounding wit
...more
Sharon
Sep 14, 2011 Sharon rated it liked it
I liked the first part of the book. It shows the changing culture of a staunch Catholic family in Northern Ireland and their daughter new ideals. She knew her parents would not approve of her lifestyle so chose to hide from them instead of communicate with them.

The second half of the book takes place before the first half and tells of all the things she couldn't tell her parents. There are similarities between Catherine and her mother but Catherine does not have her religion to guide her.

The f
...more
Jonathan Harline
Jan 31, 2015 Jonathan Harline rated it it was amazing
This book is phenomenal, and I try to not use that term lightly
Debra Albonaimi
Sep 17, 2013 Debra Albonaimi rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this novel!
In addition to the beautiful cover, a previous reader had underlined and written copious notes in its' margins. I wonder if he/she loved it as much as I did.
The story is about a young female composer who is a gifted composer and pianist. She thinks musically and hears music in everything - hence Grace Notes being the space between the notes that actually gives music its voice.
Believing in her creativity, she abandons the secure to compose; yeilding to both her need
...more
Lori
Sep 13, 2014 Lori added it
Enjoyed that this was set in Ireland good story
Leigh
Oct 06, 2011 Leigh rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2006, top-reads-2006
A beautiful and beautifully written novel about a musician and composer named Catherine McKenna. Her father's death precipitates a trip back to the town outside of Belfast where she grew up. The insights that occur to her there and when she returns to Glasgow to her work and her family create an interesting and complex character. The descriptions of how she writes music were very interesting. I'm not doing the novel justice - it was absorbing and excellent.
Anne
Jun 19, 2008 Anne rated it it was ok
My friend's mom in Northern Ireland lent me this book to read. A grace note is a tiny note quickly played before another note.... hardly audible but nevertheless making a huge difference. Here's my review written when I had plenty of time to read, write, and work out daily at the local sports club -- oh yes, and play the piano: http://www.analyticalq.com/journal/j0... It was one of the first of many more fictional novels with a huge musical element....
Betty
Aug 07, 2011 Betty rated it really liked it
Browsing in my own bookcases, I came across this work, which I must have bought over a decade ago as it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997. A beauiful read, artful writing about art without words: the composition of music. And the context of composing for a young Irish woman in Scotland. I highly recommend it.
Maya
Apr 22, 2014 Maya rated it it was ok
Yawn-fest...
Mimi
Jan 04, 2011 Mimi rated it really liked it
What I loved about this book is the narrator's description about what it's like to write contemporary
classical music. It was a book I slowly grew to like, the first half takes place later in time than
the last half. The narrator is a woman in crisis, a well-developed character slowly revealed.
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Bernard MacLaverty was born in Belfast (14.9.42) and lived there until 1975 when he moved to Scotland with his wife, Madeline, and four children. He has been a Medical Laboratory Technician, a mature student, a teacher of English and, for two years in the mid eighties, Writer-in-Residence at the University of Aberdeen.

After living for a time in Edinburgh and the Isle of Islay he now lives in Glasg
...more
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